Follow TV Tropes


Series / Scrabble

Go To
It's the television version of everybody's favorite game!
Charlie Tuna: A nine-letter word, the clue is, they hang them on TV Tropes.
Studio Audience: LAMPSHADE!
Charlie: It's the crossword game you've played all your life, but never quite like this!
Audience: SCRABBLE!

Based on the board game of the same name, this NBC Game Show hosted by Chuck Woolery, famous for Wheel of Fortune and Love Connection, featured contestants trying to navigate a crossword puzzle-like board, forming words and winning cash.

Unlike the board game, however, the contestants did not form words themselves; instead, the words were pre-generated and as on Wheel the contestants had to provide the correct letters and guess the word. To do this, players were given a vague, punny clue (see above quote for example), then they would draw from a rack of "tiles", each representing a letter from the word (along with three "Stoppers", which didn't appear in the word), choose one of two letters to place within the word, and try to guess the word once the letter's position was revealed. A Stopper would end the player's turn.


Another difference from the board game was that letters had no value in themselves. The pink and blue Bonus Spaces on the board could be worth bonus cash to a player who correctly solved the word immediately after placing a letter on a colored square. The first player to solve three words...all together now...won the game...

...and would go on to the Sprint round, where they tried to solve four words quicker than their opponent (the returning champion in later years) by picking one of two letters in the word at a time (no Stoppers in this half of the game). Beginning in 1986, whoever won the Scrabble Sprint would attempt then a Bonus Sprint, where they had to guess two words in 10 seconds to win $5,000, increasing by $1,000 each time it wasn't won.

The series originally ran from 1984 to 1990, then returned briefly in 1993 as part of an hour-long block with Scattergories.


Building on the letter "O", six letters in the word, and the clue is: You'll spend hours with them.

  • The Announcer: Originally Jay Stewart, with Charlie Tuna replacing him in fall 1985 (after having alternated with Stewart since the start of the year) so Stewart could concentrate on sister show Sale of the Century. Rod Roddy held this role on the 1984 pilot.
  • April Fools' Day: On the April Fool's Day 1989 episode, Chuck walked out and recited his Wheel of Fortune opening spiel, complete with "Once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep." and the Wheel puzzle reveal chimes.
  • Audience Participation: The studio audience yelled out the word described by the announcer at the start of the show, and also counted along with Chuck when he paid out a bonus during Crossword.
  • Berserk Button: Don't solve a puzzle if there's a pink or blue square open and only one Stopper left, unless that Stopper is the only letter in front of you. Especially in the '93 series, when those squares were the only way the Bonus Sprint increased in value.
  • Big Win Sirens: The stock "NBC sirens" were heard for $20,000, $40,000, Bonus Sprint, and Tournament wins.
  • Bonus Round: The Scrabble Sprint (and later, the Bonus Sprint).
  • Bonus Space: Blue and pink squares, which awarded $500 and $1,000 respectively. Their locations and colors matched up to the bonus spaces on the original game board: blue for Double/Triple Letter, pink for Double/Triple Word. The bonus was awarded if any of the following happened:
    • A player solved the word immediately after dropping a letter into a bonus square.
    • A player hit a bonus square and immediately provides an incorrect solution, and the opponent, upon taking control, immediately solves the word before making any further play.
    • A new word was built on a letter in a bonus square, and the player with starting control immediately solved it.
    • A letter fell into a bonus square during Speedword, and one player immediately buzzed in and solved it.
  • Celebrity Edition: Scrabble would occasionally feature stars from NBC television series, and even featured two Game Show Host editions—the first of which saw Double Dare host Marc Summers filling in as host during rounds in which Chuck became a contestant.note  During these episodes, each celebrity played on behalf of a different, randomly selected home viewer.
  • The Chew Toy:
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • The Bonus Squares.
    • During the July 1984 to March 1985 episodes with the original Scrabble Sprint format, players chose between the blue and pink envelopes.
  • Companion Cube: Literally, the game board was a giant revolving cube, with two sides for Crossword/Sprint rounds, and two sides that were basic Scrabble boards with neon. On one 1989 episode, the game board started sliding back during a round. Once the technicians fixed it, Chuck started talking to the board as if he were giving commands to a dog: "Stay! Stay right there! Stay! Sit!"
    • One of the changes for the '93 version was that it didn't revolve, though this was because at some point between the 1990 pilot and taping for the '93 series, the Cube's motor got damaged and simply couldn't turn anymore. The Crossword screen was programmed to re-create the row of blanks for the Sprint during that round.
  • Corpsing: It was not uncommon to see Chuck lose his composure after reading something really silly.
  • A Day in the Limelight: During a special 1987 week where various game show hosts (including Jamie Farr, who never actually hosted a full-time game show and was plugged as being host of Double Up, which ended up not selling) played for home viewers, Chuck played several games with Marc Summers as host; in one game, Chuck won $12,000.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • For the first 2¼ years, the games straddled: Two new contestants competed in the Crossword Game, with the winner playing the Sprint against the returning champ. Originally, any champ who won five Sprints got a $20,000 bonus; if the champ won another five, he/she got $20,000 more and retired undefeated. In 1985, the bonuses were changed to increase the champ's entire winnings total to $20,000 and $40,000.
    • The bonus squares were for decoration for most of the first three months. Starting in October 1984, $500 was awarded for a correct guess on a blue square, and $1,000 was awarded for pink squares. This and the "Chuck Bucks", which debuted in early '85, were not used for the duration of the Spelling format.
    • For the first seven episodes of the series, the Crossword game added money into a pot for each letter (an element carried over from the pilot). Regular, blue, and pink squares added $25, $50, and $100, respectively, and the winner got all the money in the pot. The Sprint round was worth three times the final total instead of $1,500.
    • Originally, the Sprint round had the challenger pick one of two envelopes (pink or blue), with the champ playing the other packet. In March 1985, this was changed to have them play the same three (later four) words, with the returning champ being ushered into an isolation booth.
    • In the Sprint round, two letters popped up at the start of each word, followed by one more at a time after the player had called both of them. Starting in January 1985, the player would always be presented with two letter choices as long as there were three or more blanks; the unchosen letter of each pair and all the others not yet placed were reshuffled before the next pair came up.
    • Originally, if a champion retired undefeated, another Sprint round would be played with two new contestants to find a replacement champ. This was done only once (July 24, 1984), after Annie McCormick retired undefeated. By the time the show had its second undefeated champ in August '84, this had changed to playing two consecutive Crossword rounds.
    • The short-lived Spelling format brought back the accumulating pot used in the earliest episodes and required Crossword contestants to fill in all the missing letters in a word after buzzing in. Regular, blue, and pink squares respectively added $50, $100, and $200 (later $500) when filled in this manner. The Crossword winner received all the money in the pot.
  • Epic Fail: Thanks to a combination of nerves and bad guesses, one contestant ran up a Sprint time of 87.0 seconds. And this was during the three-word Sprint era. Watch the train wreck here.
  • Freudian Slip: "All righty, let's recrap the scores... recap them, actually."
  • Fun with Homophones: Clues frequently involved homophonic words. One example is demonstrated under "Take That!"
  • Game Show Host: Chuck Woolery. Steve Edwards hosted a 1990 pilot for a proposed syndicated run via Group W/Westinghouse.
  • Grand Finale: The 1990 finale ended with Chuck thanking the staff and crew for the past six years, followed by a $6,000 Sprint win. The champ, George Sealy, came back to defend his title when the series returned in 1993.
  • Halloween Special: With the contestants dressed in costume. This would usually be the basis for the one-phrase introductions Charlie Tuna would use at the beginning of each round, such as "He's a real Bozo; she'll move her tail for you," for a man dressed as a clown and a woman dressed as a cat.
  • Home Game: One was released by Selchow & Righter in 1987, called TV Scrabble. A board game of a game show of a board game.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes: Many over the course of both versions, generally resulting in Speedword being played before either contestant got two words.
    • Starting with the format overhaul in September 1986, viewers were invited to send in words and clues to be used in the opening sequence. The viewer whose word was chosen each day received a Scrabble T-shirt.
  • In Name Only: The mechanics of the game show had very little to do with the board game itself.
  • Obvious Rule Patch:
    • For the first year of the show's initial run, the two Sprint contestants were each played with different sets of words during the same round. The challenger picked from an envelope (blue or pink) from which to play, giving the champion the one not chosen.
    • Afterwards, the show began having the challenger and the champion play to determine who could solve the same four (initially three) words faster. Initially, both players took their turns during the same segment of the show. The champion went into an offstage Sound Proof Booth while the challenger played and set a time, and the champion then returned to the stage and tried to beat that time.
    • The "same set of words" format saw later refinement to fit Scrabble's eventual, permanent self-contained format. The first Crossword winner on an episode established a time before the second Crossword was played, and the winner of that round tried to beat that time.
  • Opening Narration: See above.
    • "This is [Contestant's name here, drumroll plays]! In just a few moments he/she could win $20,000 note  today on Scrabble!" (Used during the "straddling" format if he/she was going for a fifth or 10th win.)
  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: The contestants' nametags. With rare exceptions (such as during the show's two Game Show Host Weeks), every Crossword game was played between one male and one female contestant.
    • One contestant, named Andre François Jean DuPuy, had both pink and blue tags for his first three names.
  • Progressive Jackpot: Used in the Bonus Sprint; from 1986 to 1990 (including the Edwards pilot), $5,000 base, $1,000 added per day not won. For the '93 series, $1,000 base, increased every time someone solved on a pink or blue square in the Crossword game ($500 for blue, $1,000 for pink).
  • Rule of Three: Primarily used during the front game: Three stoppers per word; solve three words to win. Also applied to Scrabble Sprint until the 1986 format overhaul, where both players played three words (originally two different sets, later they played the same set); of course, the best time won.
  • Rules Spiel:
    • "We're gonna play Scrabble until someone gets three words right; that player goes on to the Scrabble Sprint for a chance at a bonus worth [today's pot size]. Take a look at the board as we set up for our first game...When you think you know the word, hit your buzzer, and don't forget the pink and blue bonus squares; they're worth money."
    • In the Sprint: "Don't forget to hit the plunger, that's what stops the clock. There are no Stoppers in any of these words; all the letters are good."
  • Pilot: Taped in March 1984 with Rod Roddy announcing, a lot of different graphics, and an odd format (involving cash in the Crossword game, and the player with the best Sprint time at the end of the week getting a $25,000 bonus).
  • Scrabble Babble: Sorry, averted. However, the show sometimes used proper names, which are forbidden in the traditional game.
    • Played straight on very infrequent occasions, such as one Crossword game in which the clue for the first word (9 letters) was: "A lot of people don't know it, but this word is it." The answer: MISPELLED (it should have two S's).
  • Shout-Out: During the first Tournament of Champions in February 1985, Chuck said that they borrowed the glass suitcase from Sale of the Century, another Reg Grundy series that aired on NBC.
  • Speed Round: Speedword, played at three different times - when one player hit the third Stopper in a word and the opponent had no guess, after a 2-2 tie (starting in early 1985), and whenever time ran short (during the second format).
    • Also applies to the Scrabble Sprint, in which the contestant who correctly guesses three (later four) words faster wins.
  • Stage Money: For most of the original series, Chuck would walk to the contestants and hand out bonus money if they answered correctly after hitting a pink or blue square. The bills, referred to as "Chuck Bucks," were printed with his picture and colored to match the squares. (For a while when the bonus rules were first instituted, Chuck paid all the bonuses off with actual $100 bills.) In 1993, the money just went into a pot for the Sprint.
  • Stock Footage: From 1984 to 1986, each episode began with a shot of the set from the 1984 pilot. The set in the pilot had a faster chase light configuration than the one for the series. After the opening spiel, the shot from the current episode, with host Chuck Woolery making his entrance, was then shown. Between March 28 and August 11, 1986, the studio audience began appearing on camera.
  • Take That!: On the 1990 finale, after the second word, Chuck wondered whether he had been cancelled and the show was all right.
    Chuck: I kept telling 'em, "Look, find somebody else to do it, it'll be a huge hit. Look what happened to Wheel!"
    • Clue: "Still crazy after all these years". Answer: KHOMEINI
    • Contestant Terry Ray has some fun wordplay with Chuck in this Sprint round.
      Chuck: We were looking for WIMPS.
      Terry: WIMPS? And I may qualify as that, I don't know.
      Chuck: Well, now, I wouldn't say that.
      • Before going to his make-up word, Terry takes a jab at a rather energetic fitness guru...
      Chuck: You ever do exercises and stuff like that? What's that guy's name? Richard Simmons, yeah.
      Terry: Now, he's a wimp. See?
      (audience laughs)
      Chuck: I can't win!
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Whenever he read a really silly or suggestive clue, Chuck had no reservations in chastising the writing staff.